James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Change waits for one night

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just a day after they were hired, Dale Hunter (Washington Capitals) and Kirk Muller (Carolina Hurricanes) made their debuts with their respective teams. Both lost low-scoring games.


Now, it’s ridiculous to judge them too much based on a single game – or even a single month, for that matter – but fantasy owners are probably hoping that those coaching changes will make a positive difference in underperforming players. Let’s take a quick peek at how some of the usual suspects fared in their first games being guided by new voices.



Pundits hammered home the concept that Alex Ovechkin would go back to leading all forwards in time on ice per game after receiving a clean slate with Hunter. That clean slate didn’t treat him too well on Tuesday, though, as Ovechkin received a jarringly small 16:46 minutes against the St. Louis Blues. On the bright side, he earned an assist on the lone Capitals goal by Nicklas Backstrom. The bad news is that he still isn’t looking like the high volume star that fantasy owners expected to receive with a first round pick. (Want to take a deeper look at Ovechkin's struggles? Check out this fascinating piece from Gus Katsaros.)


He wasn’t the only Caps player who struggled, though. Washington fired a pathetic 19 shots on goal and only managed a single power play opportunity on Nov. 29. Tomas Vokoun looked OK after stopping 28 out of 30 shots, but the game-winner he allowed wasn’t very pretty.


Ultimately, the Capitals might have the same thought they had before: they still miss Mike Green’s breakout passes and offensive instincts. It wouldn’t be shocking if GM George McPhee looked at the Blues’ coaching change with a little bit of envy, though.



If you were hoping for something other than “more of the same,” then you weren't likely to find it in the Carolina Hurricanes game on Tuesday. It might take some time to introduce concepts like "playing defense" to a group of players who are used to playing an attacking system that inexplicably struggles to do anything with the many powerplay opportunities it generates.


Moving on, let’s first get to the big guy. Eric Staal played more than 22 minutes and (much like Ovechkin) managed to record an assist during the game. Muller has gone on record of asking him not to try to be “Superman,” but the same guy from the last few seasons. (Most of us have made peace with the fact that Staal is unlikely to come anywhere close to the numbers he put up in the first post-lockout season, but seeing him flat line like he did this season is really disappointing.)


As far as the Hurricanes other big money guy goes, Cam Ward didn’t seem to fare as well as Staal. Carolina allowed just 20 shots on goal but Ward still gave up two, which was enough to do the increasingly punch-less team in. I still firmly believe that Ward has the chance to benefit from the two coaching changes more than anyone else, but it might not happen overnight.



The funny thing about the Vancouver Canucks goalie controversy is that it’s a situation that’s as simple as can be. Ultimately, the Canucks will go with Cory Schneider as far as his hot streak will take them, but Roberto Luongo’s contract will likely dictate the fact that he’ll be “the guy” in the long run. It’s something I like to call "paycheck politics" in the NHL, but barring a great trade, it’s the bottom line of this situation.


That being said, if you decided to pick him up about a month ago, you might as well make your own Alain Vigneault impression and milk this for all it’s worth.



The Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers remain red-hot, while the Blues, Panthers and Coyotes aren’t far behind.


  • The Senators present an interesting conundrum in net, fantasy-wise. Craig Anderson keeps putting up pedestrian numbers, but maybe he’s the Tebow of hockey, because his team continues to give him top-notch support. (In this case, you can trade the Broncos’ stifling defense for the Senators’ surprisingly potent offense, though.) I think Anderson is a very good third goalie option in fantasy, especially if your league is more about quantity over quality when it comes to goalie stats.
  • However you feel about Brian Elliott getting shafted in St. Louis, it seems inevitable that Jaroslav Halak will take over because he makes more money and carries a bigger name. This actually looks a lot like a situation that is developing in Columbus. Curtis Sanford continues to play well, but not dazzlingly enough to really get people excited. My feeling is that his abbreviated losing streak and all the outside factors will turn the keys back to Steve Mason - eventually.

It wouldn’t be wrong for you to see if logic prevails over wallets in this case, but my guess is that teams will force-feed fans Halak and Mason with a shrug or two.


  • John Tortorella might be a bit on the … excitable side, but he’s getting a lot out of the New York Rangers right now. Henrik Lundqvist is delivering as usual while the player they expected a lot from (Brad Richards) and ones they were only hoping for the best from (example: Marian Gaborik) are coming up huge. Reality might set in – a bit – if injuries come at the wrong time, although Torts & Co. navigated those waters nicely in 2010-11, for what it’s worth.
  • Is it me or is Ondrej Pavelec playing himself out of the NHL right now? At least Ray Emery has health and lack-of-starts related excuses to fall back on, but what can Pavelec complain about? Pavelec showed glimpses of potential last season, yet he cannot seem to distinguish himself in a contract year. His next few months could be quite interesting, though.
  • Hopefully you listened to the first full-scale bulletin from the Daily Dose and added Mike Smith weeks ago. He continued his run of great play with a nice win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night. (The Dave Tippett for Jack Adams coalition has to be running stronger than ever, by the way.)



Jordan Leopold is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, which probably doesn't coming from sheer peer pressure to join his other injured Buffalo Sabres teammates off the ice … Blake “Boom Boom The Next Generation” Geoffrion apparently won’t be booming for some time with an arm issue … Senators Nikita Filatov and Filip Kuba are both day-to-day with their nagging problems … Alex Burrows played for Vancouver despite an injured hand and he ended up being one of the best scorers from the Canucks on Tuesday. Say what you will about Burrows, but he sports that necessary amount of scoring touch to make him worth all the trouble – when he’s on the right team, at least. (Click here for the full list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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